Stressing About How to Homeschool with Babies and Toddlers in Tow? Here are 4 Ways to Make the School Year Easier
My mom had pulled us all out of public school the same year my baby brother was starting Kindergarten. She was a new homeschooling mom teaching 5 kids simultaneously with a toddler in the periphery. Homeschooling with babies and toddlers is tough, but there’s one memory in particular that I always considered humorous — my 3 year-old sister correcting her older brother as he learned his alphabet via flash cards. She did it so much that she was forbidden to be in the same room when he was working on that subject. While it infuriated my 5 year-old brother, my mom lauded the “One Room Schoolhouse Effect” every time she retold the story.
Fast forward 25 years and it’s my chance to homeschool my oldest son. These kinds of memories come to mind, and I let slip a little sigh of contentment. ‘How wonderful it will be for my younger children to learn along with the older ones!’ I muse.
But then reality of homeschooling with babies and toddlers in tow sets in quickly. Trying to teach one or more children at home while there are little ones who need you too is challenging. ‘Screw the “One Room Schoolhouse Effect”!’ I silently scream. How can there even be a learning environment when I have to stop every hour (or every 10 minutes) to nurse a baby or change a diaper or calm a temper tantrum or fix breakfast, lunch, and snacks?! No teacher in the Anne of Green Gables books I read ever had to do those things while schooling her students in that one-room schoolhouse!
But it is very much a part of the homeschooling life when one is educating their children with babies and toddlers in the mix. It’s not like we can send an 18 month-old outside to play so we can focus on that really tough chapter in math or when your easily distracted student needs a quiet 30 minutes to work on editing that writing assignment with you?
So, how does one homeschool with babies and toddlers at home? I’ll admit, I don’t have all of the answers, but I did poll several of my friends who have had to teach at home with babies and toddlers to see what has worked for them. Maybe one or more of these suggestions might work for you.
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1. Hire a Friend or Mother’s Helper
My friend was getting overwhelmed homeschooling 6 of her children while keeping up with her 2 babies and toddler, and by the grace of God, her path crossed with a wonderful woman who wanted to help a little bit every week with the littlest ones. What followed was a perfect situation for both women: one woman made a bit of extra cash playing grandmother and my friend could help her older kids focus on their studies during that time.
Granted, this scenario doesn’t land in every overwhelmed parent’s lap, but there are Mommy’s Little Helpers out there, usually pre-teens or teenagers from other homeschooling families that are looking for a bit of an income and a chance to prove themselves as future babysitters. Counting on specific hours every week gives homeschooling parents the chance to dedicate more undivided attention on tough subjects or concepts. It allows their struggling student to feel valued AND helps to beef up the Little Helper’s resume.
2. Get Comfortable with a Little Screen Time
I’ve heard this from many different teaching-at-home parents, especially this spring after the schools closed suddenly. There are times when an episode (or two) of your toddler’s favorite show is the solution. I think most attentive parents know that the devices and screens aren’t the best babysitters and shouldn’t be the first go-to, but there are times when one has to weigh: help the frustrated middle-schooler work through this pre-algebra concept while their baby sister watches Little Einsteins or or face-off a frustrated middle-schooler and a cranky toddler simultaneously. The trick is to find something that fits the little learner and not overuse it.
So, don’t feel too guilty about some screen time if it’s for a good cause.
3. Use Your Resources
My oldest son’s Kindergarten year was the hardest in terms of keeping other children entertained or simply out of my hair during school hours. I had a K-3 learner, who randomly insisted on doing “school” and a 9 month-old, who went from only sitting to crawling, then walking, then trying to climb during that scholastic year.
There were plenty of days when I felt like I was working against the tide. Over time, I discovered I had a couple of things I could use to my advantage. Everyone has a different set of resources available to them, so use what you have. Here are some resources you might use to make homeschooling with babies and toddlers more manageable.
My littlest took 2-3 naps every day, so I maximized on that time. We could get more done when he was out of the picture, so sometimes our school day was broken up according to when he was sleeping.
Choosing the right location for homeschooling activities can make a big difference. I had my homeschooling set up at the same table that I fed the two youngest their snacks. That meant I could get my Kindergartner counting and grouping 1-20 with Cheerios, while the other two sat there just eating them.
Time to Nurse?
That was always reading time for my oldest. We all snuggled in together on the couch for those 10-20 minutes and made the most of it.
Incorporate Play Time
Last year, I set up a little toy kitchen in our school area. My youngest, now 3, loved to make us muffins, cookies, coffee and soup out of kinetic sand. I would ‘sample’ his creations and decide that it needed more of this or that and send him back. This little game helped him feel that I was engaged with him, but I managed to stay right by my Kindergartner’s side for when he got stuck on a task.
As an older sibling in a big family, I never minded a break from my studies to help my mom for 15-20 minutes while she worked with my older brother on his Chemistry or Advanced Math assignments. Older kids can be a great way to buy time here and there throughout the day. Or if you are lucky enough to live close to grandparents or aunts and uncles, see if there is a specific day that they can play with your littlest learners, giving you a chance to work through those difficult scholastic tasks uninterrupted.
Puzzles, coloring books, half-way used notebooks, sensory sand, play-doh—all of these things (and more) are great ways to buy some time, allowing parents to work with their other students. If you head to the nearest Dollar Store, you could walk out with lots of different ways to keep your toddlers (and some older babies) busy for under $10.
4. Manage your Expectations – Homeschooling with Babies & Toddlers is Hard
Honestly, this should probably be first, but I’m saving it for last so that it sticks in your mind. Make a small list (note the word ‘small’) of daily or yearly scholastic priorities. Homeschooling with babies and toddlers is going to be hard. Be honest with yourself, take into consideration each family member’s most important needs, and go from there. There’s only so much of you to go around and everyone needs a little something from you. Decide what, when and how.
So the bottom line is this – we get it! Those of us who have little learners in the mix need to know we are not alone and, more importantly, there are options to help alleviate the stress of juggling it all. If you are homeschooling with babies and toddlers, don’t be afraid to use all the hacks you can to make this school year the most perfectly imperfect one yet.
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